As a child, Santa Clara resident Jennifer Lee imagined being a scientist with a white lab coat and goggles. By the time she finished high school, Lee wanted to be a doctor. At Stanford University, she doubled majored in Biology and Psychology. During her senior year, she had an epiphany. Lee realized that all the things she enjoyed doing in college – advising freshmen, teaching courses, and coordinating lab sequences – were related to teaching. She concluded that her true calling was really to be an educator. Today Lee is the recipient of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s 2016 STEM Teaching Award and the Director of the 49ers STEM Leadership Institute. (STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.) The 49ers STEM Leadership Institute is an academic program in Cabrillo Middle School and Santa Clara High School for selected students from grades seven to 12.
“It was kind of a shock to win this because I consider myself new in my role as a STEM program director,” says Lee, who thinks she was nominated by Superintendent Stan Rose and Cabrillo Middle School principal Stan Garber.
A teacher since 2007, Lee began teaching math and science at Cabrillo Middle School straight out of Stanford, where she also received her M.A. in STEP (Stanford Teacher Education Program). She also taught AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) electives for middle school and high school students. These electives are geared toward students who need extra support and are intended to help them achieve their goals of going to a four year university after high school. Lee taught a combination of those classes for seven years.
When science and math teachers were being sought for the 49ers Stem Leadership Institute, Lee applied. The original director of the program had to step down shortly before the program opened and Lee was offered the job to be the program director.
Lee emphasizes that she wants to help prepare students for success outside the classroom.
“We see a lot of youth and adults who are really strong academically but they’re lacking soft skills, like communication or collaboration,” she says. “Because of that, they’re not able to reach as far or be as successful. What I want to do is develop non-cognitive soft skills in our students. Also, the way you engage young learners is that you have to make the learning relevant to them so that the work that they’re learning is something they can see in the world around them every day.”
Lee will be receiving the 2016 STEM Teaching Award and a $1,000 prize, with five other local teachers, at the 47th annual Teacher Recognition Celebration hosted by the Santa Clara County Office of Education on Thursday, Sept. 29 at the Heritage Theatre in Campbell. Also receiving an award from the Santa Clara Unified School District will be Angie Scott, recognized as a 2016 Teacher of the Year.